The Influence of Social Networks on Human Society

Information science and communication technology have changed rapidly over the past 20 years. This change has influenced the way we see others and the way we interact with the world around us. Furthermore, the rise in internet penetration has accelerated the use of social networking services – online platforms which people use to build social networks or social relations with other people, who share similar personal or career interests, activities, backgrounds or real-life connections.

This notion of a social network and the methods of social network analysis have attracted considerable interest and curiosity from the social and behavioral science community in the recent years. Much of this interest can be attributed to the appealing focus of social network analysis on relationships among social entities, and on the patterns and implications of these relationships. Many researchers have realised that the network perspective allows new leverage for answering standard social and behavioural science questions by giving precise formal definition to various aspects of the political, economic, or socio-structural environment. [1]

Technological advancements have also made it easier for people to express themselves through social media platforms. Humans are social animals and social networks are just another way for human interaction. We should not look at social networks as threats but as opportunities for us to interact with people globally.

The influence of social networks on society

Understanding how people interact with each other and form associations over social networking services gives us a direct insight on the direction in which the society as the whole is heading towards. Social media has a direct correlation with the things that shape politics, business, world culture, education, careers, innovation, and more.

At present, almost 3 billion people use the internet [2], and by the year 2021, this would have become the number of active users of social neworks. [3] A study by New York Times Consumer Insight Group revealed the motivation that participants cited for sharing information on social media. These include a desire to reveal valuable and entertaining content to others, to define themselves, to grow and nourish relationships, and to get the word out about brands and causes they like or support. [4] This trend would influence the communication styles, political perspectives, mode of communication and even the ability to socialise in the real world, if it has not already done so.

According to Nicholas Christakis, a renowned Social Scientist and Physician, “Understand- ing social networks and how they form and operate can help us understand not just health and emotions, but all kinds of other phenomena – like crime, and warfare, and economic phenom- ena like how banks run and markets crash, and the adoption of innovation and the spread of product adoption”. [5] To understand social networks, Christakis proposed the theory of a super- organism. The perspective of studying human society, as a super-organism is an indication of the direction in which the current society is heading towards – a collection of people who show or evince behaviours or phenomena that are not reducible to the study of individuals.

In non-democratic countries like Russia, social networking websites with a high level of po- litical capabilities are one of the major reasons for the spread of democratic ideologies among its citizens. This would influence the future political culture of the country and the society as a whole. [6]

Another notable example of social networks provoking a reaction is how government agencies are being formed and operated in parallel with the growth of social communications. Govern- ments, as well as government agencies, are taking advantage of social networking services to keep the public informed and get the opinion of the public on their activity. From traffic updates by the local traffic police stations to NASA’s review of Human Space Flight Committee agenda, [7] different government agencies are utilising social media to stay connected with the public.

Research has shown that 66% of social media users actively engage in political activity online. [8] But the diffusion of political ideas via social networking websites and its impact on society is not perspicuous. The University of British Columbia conducted a survey on ’slacktivism’ – actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement. The survey shows that social media is slowly killing real activism. [9] However, as many studies on slacktivism relate only to a specific case or campaign, it is difficult to find an exact percentage of slacktivist actions that reach a stated goal. Nevertheless, social media have changed the nature of political campaigns and will continue to play a key role in future elections around the world. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the 2016 US general elections showed how powerful the social media can be in assisting the spread of political ideologies and messages.

Politics is just one area where social networks impact human society. Modern technology like mobile phones and instant messaging led to the growth of the social networking revolution. People with similar views and political ideologies can now easily find and connect with each other. Social media also allows for self-expression and can serve as a creative outlet for individuals to express themselves, share their artwork and opinions on specific topics. More and more relationships and friendships are being formed online and then carried to an offline setting. Social networking services have impacted the way we communicate and form relationships with each other. Jargons are directly being influenced by the adaptation of the internet and usage of social networking sites. Physical emotions are loosely mimicked by emoticons and new abbreviations like LOL, AFK, BRB are being used. The number of contacts on a social platform is sometimes considered a false indicator of social capital. Many young adults equate a part of their identity or self-worth with the number of likes they receive on a post and forget that a post does not define who they are as a person and should not change the way they view themselves.

Social networks create emotional contagion. In connected groups, people tend to imitate each other. Subconsciously, emotions can be shared and mimicked. The content individuals produce in daily social-media-based micro-communications, and the emotions therein expressed, may impact the emotional states of others. [10] A recent experiment performed on Facebook hypothesized that emotions spread online, even in absence of nonverbal cues typical of face-to- face interactions, and that individuals are more likely to adopt positive or negative emotions if these are over-expressed in their social network.

Social networking sites encourage people to be more public about their personal lives. This comes with its own disadvantages. People tend to feel a false sense of connection. According to Steven Strogatz from Cornell University, “The distinction between genuine friends and ac- quaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don’t really care about.”. [11] This immediacy might lead to cyber-bullying - personal attacks, stalking, identity theft, and misuse of information. In a survey, 23% of teenagers report being targeted and 15% said they would have bullied someone on social media. Social media platforms can be misused to spread rumours, share videos aimed at destroying reputations and to blackmail others too. [12]

Conclusion

Humans are social animals and social media has become part of the modern lifestyle. Social net- working services have revolutionised the world by bringing us closer than ever, it should be used to stay connected for necessary conversations. But the risks associated with such interactions must be pondered upon.

Social media is a tool – a byproduct of the internet. Like any other tool, its influence depends on the way we use it. Without social media, social, ethical, environmental and political ills would have minimal visibility. Increased visibility of issues has shifted the balance of power from the hands of a few to the masses. The relationships themselves must be managed in the same way we manage personal relationships, i.e., one must be wary of frauds.

References

[1] Stanley Wasserman and Katherine Faust (1994). Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications (Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences)

[2] Jacob Davidson, Retrieved May 26, 2015. 3.2 Billion People Now Using Internet Worldwide (http://time.com/money/3896219/internet-users-worldwide/)

[3] Statista.com, 2017. Number of social media users worldwide from 2010 to 2021 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/)

[4] Maryanne Gaitho, Retrieved August 4, 2017. New to Content Distribution? (https://www.simplilearn.com/what-is-content-distribution-article)

[5] Nicholas Christakis, TED.com, Retrieved Sep. 3, 2010. The Hidden Influence of Social Net- works (https://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas christakis the hidden influence of social networks)

[6] James L. Gibson, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 51-68. Social Networks, Civil Society, and the Prospects for Consolidating Russia’s Democratic Transition (American Journal of Political Science)

[7] NASA.gov May 7, 2009. U.S. Announces review of human space flight plans (https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/358006main OSTP%20Press%20Release.pdf)

[8] Dr. Pamela Rutledge, The Media Psychology Blog, January 25, 2013. How Obama Won the Social Media Battle in the 2012 Presidential Campaign (http://mprcenter.org/blog/2013/01/how-obama-won-the-social-media-battle-in-the- 2012-presidential-campaign/)

[9] The University of British Columbia, November 8, 2013. Slacktivism: ‘Liking’ on Facebook may mean less giving (https://news.ubc.ca/2013/11/08/slacktivism-liking-on- facebook-may-mean-less-giving/)

[10] Ferrara E, Yang Z , Nov 6, 2015, 10(11):e0142390. Measuring Emotional Contagion in Social Media (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0142390)

[11] Oprah.com, October 2009 issue. Social Not-Working: The Perils of Too Much Communica- tion (http://www.oprah.com/relationships/negative-impact-of-social-networking-websites- at-work#ixzz4vewCEp8V)

[12] Stephanie Pappas, June 22, 2015. Cyberbullying on Social Media Linked to Teen Depression (http://www.livescience.com/51294-cyberbullying-social-media-teen-depression.html)